Day 096 - Expanding inwards

Submitted by Sam on 24 August, 2011 - 23:03

Self-replicating autonomous space probes are one of the fastest theoretical ways for a civilization to colonize space. They allow an exponentially fast expansion which would rapidly move a civilization through the three stages of the Kardashev scale – a measure of the total amount of energy harnessed by a civilization. The scale relates an increase in the amount of energy a civilization has at its disposal with its level of space colonization, with Type I civilizations commanding the resources of their home planet, Type II those of their star system and Type III those of their galaxy. The Kardashev scale is a widely accepted expansion hypothesis predicting that some fraction of advanced civilizations will tend to meet their increasing energy demands through physical expansion, space travel and colonization.

An alternative hypothesis for the fate of intelligent civilizations has been proposed by futurist John Smart, which predicts that the drive towards expansion will not be satisfied by space colonization but rather by “transcension” into inner space. Contrary to expansion hypotheses, the transcension hypothesis states that all sufficiently advanced civilizations will advance using progressively less space, time, energy and matter in each step of their evolutionary development, becoming ever more miniaturized and doing more and more with less and less. The hypothesis is based on observations that complex systems frequently grow with accelerating speed through increases in both the efficiency and the density of their physical resources inputs, using fewer finite resources to encode ever more information.

The transcension hypothesis predicts that civilizations will be driven, with few exceptions, towards technologies which increase both in spatial locality and time density, as systems become smaller and faster. Computational devices will be developed beyond the nanoscale to produce femtotechnology, where information is encoded and computed by subatomic particles, perhaps using a combination of single electron transistors, photonics or spintronics. All sufficiently advanced civilizations will reduce their intelligent systems through the 25 orders of magnitude between the level of atoms and the Planck length (the smallest viable measurement), a vast inner space available for engineering almost as broad as the 30 orders of magnitude inhabited by terrestrial biological life.

Once the physical limit of computational miniaturization is reached, the only way for continued exponential growth is to reach a black-hole-like singularity of energy density. So much computational circuitry would be packed into such a small space that it would collapse into itself to form a black hole, so dense that light would not escape its gravity. According to some theories, only processed information would be able to pass from beyond the black hole's event horizon, encoded by entangled high-energy particles released when matter falls through it. With the right manipulation a black hole would be the ultimate computer, and will be the destiny of all civilizations who exhaust the computational capacities of their local resources.

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